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Healthy + Engaged = Success

By Beverly Beuermann-King

A recent Hewitt Associates study found that almost half of organizations around the world experienced a significant drop in employee engagement mid way through 2010, the largest decline since Hewitt began conducting employee engagement research 15 years ago. Hand in hand with this development, job burnout is increasing, productivity is decreasing and absenteeism and job turnover are on the rise (see box).

According to a Desjardins Financial Security National Health Survey, 30% of respondents feel more stress now than they did last year. The issues contributing to their overall anxiety were seen as insufficient salary (30%); work overload (27%); a lack of recognition (22%); and a negative work environment (22%).

Quite literally, the health of our employees and organizations is at risk.

We know that companies that help their employees find the right strategies to deal with stress have more engaged workers and see higher rates of productivity and a positive impact to their bottom line. Organizations with high levels of engagement outperformed the total stock market index, even in during economic downturn. In 2009, total shareholder return for such companies was 19% higher than the average total shareholder return.

But at a time when wellness programming is needed most, Buck Consultants’ third annual global wellness survey found that one out of every four organizations is having a harder time providing wellness services. And only 32% of respondents to the Hewitt survey felt their employer helped them better manage their stress at work.

A Positive Impact

The evidence is clear: A comprehensive workplace wellness program can have a positive impact. Employee engagement increases when employees feel that their employer cares about them. OptumHealth’s research found that 84% of employees surveyed endorse the view that the presence of a workplace health and wellness programs is a sign that a company cares about its employees. A company that provides workplace wellness programs does so because it values the health of their employees.

So why aren’t more firms concentrating on this critical component of engagement? First of all, a wellness program isn’t just about the occasional stress management exercise. A comprehensive program looks at a variety of areas, many which tend to be included in an organization’s overall leadership strategy. There are, in fact, seven key components under the umbrella of a comprehensive program, each functioning like a spoke within a wagon wheel. Failure to include all of the spokes weakens the entire wheel – and the overall health and engagement of your organization. The Seven Spokes of Wellness are:

  1. Living Healthy
  2. Environment
  3. Attaining Balance
  4. Dynamics and Culture
  5. Employee Services
  6. Remuneration & Benefits
  7. Support Building

It’s important that an employer know where to focus time, dollars and energy when looking to address the issues and challenges that are causing stress and negatively affecting engagement within their company.

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A 5-Step Process

Start by identifying the causes of stress on both a micro and macro level (i.e., individually, within teams and company-wide). Find out what strategies people are using to deal with these stressors. Then determine what kinds of policies, procedures and practices would buffer them against these stressors. Finally, what kind of support will be required? This will help you formulate a plan that will ultimately have a positive and lasting impact on the health of your people and organization.

Hewitt Associates suggests that employers follow five steps when setting up a program. Here is their list, along with some specific suggestions:

  • Focus on the long term. Make changes consistent with the company’s principles and values without losing sight of overall health and engagement goals.
  • Understand key employee segments. Employers who focus strategies on key segments and critical talent are able to engage or re-engage them once the job market improves.
  • Implement measurable actions. Define specific and measurable actions that will have a positive impact on specific stressors and symptoms/reactions.
  • Obtain buy-in from leadership. Leaders need to be visible through participation and support.
  • Communicate to all stakeholders. Communication is critical and it needs to be timely in order to reduce employee uncertainty and stress. The Opinion Research Corporation found that employees are twice as likely to go the extra mile and almost four times as likely to recommend their company to others if they’re satisfied with how their company communicates difficult decisions.

Healthy employees are engaged employees who are motivated to help their organization succeed. A company that assesses the sources of stress and health of its employees and develops strategies to combat these stressors and symptoms will find that the level of engagement will rise over time, which will have a positive impact on productivity, customer service, absenteeism, turnover and their bottom line.

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The Mayo Clinic’s 13 Signs of Job Burnout:

  1. Being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work
  2. Loss of the ability to experience joy
  3. Difficulty getting into work and getting started once there
  4. Increasingly irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients
  5. Feeling like there are insurmountable barriers at work
  6. Lacking the energy to be consistently productive
  7. No longer feeling satisfaction from your achievements
  8. Having a hard time laughing at oneself
  9. Co-workers constantly asking “Are you OK?”
  10. Feeling disillusioned about the job
  11. Self-medicating – using food, drugs or alcohol – to feel better or to simply not feel
  12. Changing sleep habits or appetite
  13. Troubled by unexplained headaches, neck pain or lower back pain

Stress and wellness specialist Beverly Beuermann-King translates current research and best practices into a realistic, accessible and practical approach through her stress and wellness workshops, online articles, e-newsletters and media interviews. For more on the Seven Spokes of Wellness and the S-O-S Principle, visit @@http://www.WorkSmartLiveSmart.com.

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November/December 2010

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